Google China President Dr. Kai-Fu Lee Speaks

Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, Googles President of Greater China, visited Seattle last week and gave a presentation to Googlers and other guests. Since it was recorded as a Tech Talk, I was able to listen in, as it were.

Dr. Kai-Fu Lee is one of the most respected people in the Chinese IT community. He was a founder of Microsoft Research Asia (and a former VP) and is an expert in text to speech, speech recognition, artificial intelligence and advanced search. He has also worked for SGI and Apple, where he helped developed most of the Quicktime family - Quicktime, QuickDraw 3D, QuickTime VR and PlainTalk.

When he left Microsoft for Google in 2005, they actually sued him in an effort to prevent Google from using his search knowledge against them. They settled in July and the good doctor has been working for Google ever since.

To the best of my knowledge, his one year non-compete runs out in June, only 4 months away. I'm looking forward to what happens after that. Until then, according to the settlement, Dr. Kai-Fu Lee is not allowed to use his knowledge of search for Googles benefit, only his huge amount of contacts, trust and knowledge of China - which, in my opinion, is a huge benefit to Google.

This is a guy who you listen to when he talks about search in China. Or damn near anything else related to technology and China. He's highly respected by both the Chinese and in the West. During his presentation, he showed a picture of 2 completely packed auditoriums of Chinese students wanting to hear him speak, and then mentioned that there were about 3000 people standing outside of these!

Googles China Plans

I liked this quote, and I think it's the right attitude to succeed.

We will take a long-term view to win in China.
The Chinese have 5000 years of history.
Google has 5000 years of patience in China.
- Eric Schmidt - CEO Google

Googles plans for China (and coincidentally also the only things Dr. Kai-Fu Lee is legally allowed to do, timetable-wise) were presented as follows:

2006 - Build a foundation, establish Google and begin recruiting local engineers. ('Planting")
2007 - Begin rolling out new products, and demonstrate the quality of Google search.("Harvesting")

So this should be in interesting year for Google in China. I hope to hear about several new products. If we are lucky, they may make the announcements during SES China in May (you are going on the China Search Marketing Tour and SES China, right?).

He mentioned a few areas where Google may wish to enter into, including the usual suspects (image, scholar, etc) plus BBS search and community building.

It was also pretty clear that there are really good opportunities for local search, since the Chinese tend to be city-centric, and there is currently no online Yellow Pages, Mapquest, Craigslist, etc.

Some other information from the presentation

  • Chinese internet use is currently growing at a rate of 25% per year (compared to about 3% in the US). It should pass the US in about 3 years at that rate.
  • There are currently more broadband users in China than their are in the USA!
  • The internet users tend to be quite young, and are more interested in gaming and music than browsing. This is compounded by the large number of malware infected computers in China - it's hard to trust the browser.
  • Community building is very strong. the Chinese love to share information and argue.
  • Music is the number 1 search currently.
  • There are not that many credit cards, and even people who have them prefer face to face commerce.

One of the most telling comments he made during the presentation was that one difference between successful companies in China and unsuccessful ones is hinged on whether the local Chinese management was trusted to make decisions.

Ironically, Microsofts insistence of central control and hierarchy is one of the major reasons Dr. Kai-Fu Lee originally sought to work with Google. It appears Google is willing to trust him.

I would, too.


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